The Bible begins with the word bet. The first letter of the Hebrew Bible is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. When prefixed to the beginning of a word, bet is a simple preposition usually meaning “in” as in “In the Beginning.” But bet not only means “in.” It also represents the plural, the conjunctive, the number “two”—the human species starts as two.… One is nothing. Two is everything. One is not even a number. Two is the beginning of all numbers.… Plurals are basic to all that God creates.… Unitariness was the first thing God didn’t like.1
T.S. Eliot said, “There is no life that is not in community. And no community not lived in praise of God.”2 Scripture begins and ends with God calling humanity into relationship with the divine community and with one another. A survey of salvation history reveals the struggle of God and humanity to be in intimate relationship with one another. This is a warfare for human persons who can be redeemed only as God intercedes in human relationships and activity. God beckons us into the presence of divine and human persons and relationships. This is a battle cry to call humanity away from relational tyranny and anarchy into interdependent stewardship for all real and living things, not only “on earth,” but also “in heaven.” This Old Testament section is a brief survey of God’s struggle to create, re-create and participate in the shalom of human community.
Small groups are microcosms of God’s creation community. Wherever two or more persons come together, they become an actual reflection of the image and likeness of God. Small groups are the basic arena for either imaging the redeeming presence of God or projecting destructive human systems. Every small or large gathering of humanity exists in this tension of manifesting an inhuman structure or embodying divinely redemptive relationships. The biblical record calls every small group to consider their source and purpose. This biblical recollection is a calling to remembrance of God’s image for human community as it makes an impact on the being and service of small groups.
The Old Testament has no specific theology of small group community. However, there is much reflection on tribal community, marital community, familial community and friendship. Many of the key characters are described as they relate to one, two or more others. For example, the book of Ruth is about three women and a man, all related by family ties, who share in the faith history and ancestry of Jesus. Their interpersonal relationships are not those of a modern small group, but their face-to-face relationships are a classic small group case study, carrying all the ramifications of complex group dynamics. This group story deals with grief, friendship, love, loneliness, journeying, self-sacrifice, sorrow, security needs, values, bitterness, personal faith, unanswered questions, confrontation, money, food, work, grace, reconciliation, thankfulness, providence, risk, courage, redemption and hope. They live life together as a community. This small band of people search together in a harsh world for God’s intervention and mercy.
So it was from the beginning; God created men and women to live together in small groups of faith. In these interpersonal groups human beings have discovered that God created us for one another. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Gen 2:18 NRSV).
Gareth Weldon Icenogle, Biblical Foundations for Small Group Ministry: An Integrative Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).